Friday, October 9, 2009

Bad as They Wanna Be

Bad as They Wanna Be, 2008

For reasons I’ve yet to understand, this is the fifth most looked at photograph of the more than two thousand photographs I’ve posted at Flickr. (I also can’t figure out why more than 10,000 people have looked at this short video from the Dead Horse Bay series.)

The day I encountered these kids of Atlantic Avenue in Virginia Beach brought with it several lessons. I’d been working on a series of photographs of the oceanfront resort area in the winter. It’s a place that’s all bright colors and flashing lights in the summer, but dull and dead in the winter, for which reason I was shooting to b&w.

I’d been photographing a building, the old movie theater where I and all the other kids my age used to line up around the block to see the latest Disney movies. In my teens I would see “Monterey Pop” there and, in one of the most improbable double-bills ever, “Mash” and “Patton.” The Beach Theater was a grand old movie palace, with velvet seats and large murals depicting Colonial history on the auditorium walls.

On this particular day, though, contractors were gutting the building down to its steel skeleton so that it could be turned into a two-story, military-themed indoor putt-putt golf course.

So much for nostalgia.

While standing outside the movie theater building, a gaggle of Goth wannabes approached. To be honest, I was a little turned off by them. They weren’t authentically Goth; that would have interested me. Instead, they were just a bunch of pudgy suburban kids decked out in what they’d hoped would be outrageous enough attire to attract attention.

Having failed to raise the hackles of anyone they’d encountered so far, I became their last ditch target. The more they paraded around me and the louder they got, the more I was determined not to give them the pleasure of looking into my camera. Silly? You’re right. But at the time it seemed the right thing to do.

Exasperated that their attire and conversation hadn’t attracted my attention, two of the girls in the group, in a final fit of “LOOK AT ME,” pulled their tops up over their heads, hoping I’d at least fall prey to a little titillation. But I stood fast, worried now that if I took a picture of these kids I’d be taken as a pedophile. When even this ploy failed, they gathered up their disappointment, got in their car and drove off.

Afterwards, I kicked myself for not photographing them. This was life, youthful rebellion, unfolding, or at least disrobing, before my eyes. I decided I should have stepped away from the responsible parent role and taken their picture.

So when I came upon the kids shown above, a few blocks down the street, I was in full-on engagement mode. They were cool with me taking their picture. Bad as They Wanna Be is the picture I wanted. It’s how they were arranged when I first encountered them. It’s the composition that first drew my eye. In the Flickr scheme of things, about 150 people have looked at it.

After I’d taken the picture I wanted, they asked if I’d take a picture of them in their preferred pose. This is that picture, gang symbols and all. Almost 1,500 people have come to look at it so far.

1 comment:

  1. That IS very funny--these are both really excellent photos. I really do like the one you got that wasn't them posing--there's something sort of "Arbus-y" about it. Although the posing photo is hilarious and tells its own story--with a totally different mood. It is interesting to follow what things people look at on flickr. I can never make any sense out of it.